Sunday, April 24, 2016

Oregon Consensus Assessment – South Willamette Special Area Zone

The City of Eugene’s plan to roll out its South Willamette Special Area Zone has met with vociferous opposition on several fronts. In response, the City commissioned Oregon Consensus—the State of Oregon’s program for public policy conflict resolution and collaborative governance—to conduct an assessment of the process the project has followed to date to see if there is an opportunity for a more cooperative path forward. Oregon Consensus completed its assessment last month and its report is now available online.
AIA-Southwestern Oregon’s Committee on Local Affairs (CoLA), of which I’m a member, hopes to be a part of whatever collaborative process Oregon Consensus designs and facilitates to foster balanced participation and dialogue about the City’s controversial SW-SAZ proposal. The following is CoLA’s letter to the mayor, city council, and city manager in which we express our willingness to become involved:
April 25, 2016
Eugene Mayor, City Council and City Manager
℅ City Manager’s Office
125 East 8th Avenue
Eugene, OR 97401 
Re: Oregon Consensus Assessment Report – South Willamette Special Area Zone 
Dear Mayor, City Councilors and City Manager: 
The Committee on Local Affairs (CoLA) of the American Institute of Architects-Southwestern Oregon Chapter concurs with the Oregon Consensus recommendations for improving the public process associated with the development of the proposed South Willamette Special Area Zone. CoLA’s support for the recommendations parallels that expressed by others who likewise want Eugene to manage its inevitable growth in as sustainable a manner as possible while ensuring its continued livability.
The Oregon Consensus assessment report recommends initially developing a process that includes key community members and representatives from the City planning department to pursue three goals. These goals are to:
  1. Build trust between the City and community members; 
  2. Improve communication among and between the City and the various community interests; and, 
  3. Develop better mutual understanding of the issues involved and the facts and data that might support decision-making.
CoLA understands shifting the present dynamic of adversarial conflict toward a process of joint inquiry, exploration, and learning will be challenging. Regardless, we firmly believe constructive communication among a diverse and inclusive group of community members is necessary. At a minimum, the groups involved must include affected homeowners and renters; business owners; those working for affordable housing and housing choice, transportation choices, climate change, and environmental protection; those who represent home builders and developers; the City of Eugene; and design professionals, including architects, landscape architects, and urban designers. We’re certain an effective, community-based planning process must involve all of these interests. 
It is noteworthy some people have expressed their distrust for the “planning elite,” believing those with specialized training on matters related to urban planning or design are only inclined toward imposing abstract, top-down planning solutions. They believe the City of Eugene planners in particular have been insensitive to the fine-grained complexity of very real and personal circumstances. We understand they may regard architects as members of this same “planning elite” but we also believe this is a reason why it is important architects be numbered among those who you may call upon to engage in any process toward identifying the path forward. Failing to include design professionals in such a process may perpetuate biases and distrust rather than break them down. 
The City intends the South Willamette Special Area Zone to be a pilot project for how to plan the future of Eugene. This is why a successful process and outcome are essential. CoLA believes this opportunity to develop constructive methods of engagement and involvement will not only help determine a path forward for South Willamette, but also provide a roadmap for all successful planning processes in the future. Ultimately, how the SW-SAZ proposal evolves hinges upon whether sufficient trust can exist to allow it to move forward. If it cannot, the prospects for the City’s other planning efforts may be bleak, as would its capacity to meet Envision Eugene goals associated with sustainability and livability. CoLA supports these goals because they are a thoughtful framework for Eugene's future. In particular, we believe that planning for population growth is essential to a healthy community.

In summation, we unequivocally endorse the Oregon Consensus recommendation to create a process to “shift the dynamic from an adversarial conflict … to a process of joint inquiry, exploration, and learning,” We hope you will act upon this recommendation and ask us to join other community groups in this important effort. If we are involved, we will pledge to help improve communication and work with everyone toward a mutual understanding and appreciation for the myriad issues and concerns associated with the SW-SAZ proposal. We’re confident Eugene can build a robust process and the trust necessary to confront our community’s future planning challenges. 

Austin Bailey, Scott Clarke, Randy Nishimura, and Travis Sheridan - Members, American Institute of Architects-Southwestern Oregon Chapter, Committee on Local Affairs 

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